Friday, February 12, 2010

Jesus on the Water: Did the Disciples Fear Ghosts?

On day 11 of my small group's Bible reading plan we read a passage from Mark in which Jesus walks upon the surface of the Sea of Galilee. It's a story with which we Christians are quite familiar. However, something caught my eye this time around:

"Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, 'Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.'" (Mark 6:48-50, emphasis mine)

What struck me about this passage was that it seems as though the disciples believed in and feared ghosts. For years I've told people that ghosts do not exist, and that Scripture expressly teaches as much. When I read this passage, however, I wondered if perhaps I'd been teaching wrongly. After all, if the Bible says there are no ghosts, why would the disciples have feared them? So, I decided to do a bit of research.


Before I explain my findings, however, I want to encourage my readers to do this kind of investigation into the word of God. I promise you, I am not all that different from you. I am an untrained layperson in the pews. I am not a pastor, I hold no degree, I cannot read Greek or Hebrew, and I do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture.

What I have is a desire to study the riches contained within the pages of God-breathed Scripture, and I'm telling you, it is so rewarding and fulfilling to dive deeply into the text of the Bible. You will be blessed immensely, as the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to you through His word. (But be careful, you might become addicted!) And it's not that hard to do, honestly. Let me tell you what I do.

First, I look at the text at an online Bible like, and I compare it with other, related passages. The text of the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is perfect because there are links in the text to other places where similar words and themes appear. Second, I look at the original text at Blue Letter Bible, where you can find the meaning of the Greek and Hebrew in which the Bible was originally written, as well as where those words are used elsewhere in Scripture. Third, I look at commentaries written by the giants upon whose shoulders I stand, which you can also find at Blue Letter Bible.

That's about it! I compare Scripture with Scripture (step 1), I look at what the words in their original languages meant (step 2) and I find out what theologians who are smarter than me have said over the centuries (step 3). When you do this, you will discover a limitless wealth of biblical truth that will edify you and leave you thirsty for more. You will find yourself better prepared to share the gospel, and perhaps more importantly, you will protect yourself from doctrinal error, being able to readily identify false teachings from a distance before getting swept up yourself.


Okay, so back to the issue at hand. Here's what I discovered. First, the word rendered "ghost" is φάντασμα (phantasma), a noun which means "an appearance, an apparition." The only place it's used in Scripture is here, both in Mark's and Matthew's account of the event. It comes from the root word φαντάζω (phantazo), a verb which means "to cause to appear, make visible, expose to view, show." So the disciples feared an "appearance" of something.

Interestingly, the verb φαντάζω (phantazo) appears (excuse the pun) only once in Scripture:

"For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, 'IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.' And so terrible was the sight [φαντάζω], that Moses said, 'I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling.'" (Hebrews 12:18-21, emphasis mine)

So what is the "sight" to which the author of Hebrews refers in this passage? The author is writing to Jewish believers in Jesus who are intimately familiar with their Tanakh (the Old Testament). He is contrasting the inapproachability of God on Mount Sinai, something with which the readers were very familiar, with the new covenant and heavenly Jerusalem through the mediator, Jesus Christ. He is referring to Exodus 19 in which Moses and the sons of Israel had arrived at Sinai having left Egypt three months earlier.
"The LORD said to Moses, 'Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever'" (Exodus 19:9). But, God warned him, "You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death'" (Exodus 19:12). And it was not just the people that would die, but "whether beast or man, he shall not live" (Exodus 19:13).
Three days later, "Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently" (Exodus 19:18). God told Moses, "Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish" (Exodus 19:21). And it was from within this terrifying smoke and blazing fire that the Lord gave Moses the Ten Commandments.
We see, then, that the φαντάζω (phantazo) to which the author of Hebrews referred was the "appearance" of God in what he called "blazing fire," which the people were not to approach or they would die. Moses recounted the event later, quoting the people as having said, "this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer, then we will die" (Deuteronomy 5:25). This is actually a very common theme throughout the Old Testament.
The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah and he thought "We will surely die, for we have seen God" (Judges 13:21-22). He appeared also to Gideon who, upon realizing it, cried out, "Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face," to which God replied, "do not fear; you shall not die" (Judges 6:22-23). And Moses asked God, "show me Your glory," to which God responded, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live" (Exodus 33:18-20).
What is it the disciples of Jesus feared, then? Was it the "appearance" of a ghost, a roaming, disembodied spirit of a dead person? Clearly not. The disciples feared for their lives! They thought they were seeing an "appearance" of the Lord, the likes of which caused the people to tremble with fear of death at Mount Sinai! They feared they were being visited by the angel of the Lord and were about to die! But Jesus comforted them, just as the angel of the Lord had done in the past, and said, "Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid" (Mark 6:50).

The Bible teaches us ghosts don't exist, and perhaps I'll write about that in greater depth later. What we see, though, is that the disciples did not fear a ghost, they feared they would die having seen an appearance of the Lord. But this is more than an interesting bit of insight into the text in which the event is recorded. I am moved deeply, nearly to the point of tears, as I type these words, for in this post I wrote this morning what I was learning as I was learning it.

Reflect and meditate on Jesus' response to His disciples: "Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid." They feared they would die as a result of God having appeared to them, as He had on Mount Sinai. But Jesus and the author of Hebrews remind us that we "have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing terrible was the sight, that Moses said, 'I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling.'" No, we have come to something much greater:

"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel." (Hebrews 12:22-24)

Through Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and man, we can approach God! In the past God could not be approached, for anyone catching a glimpse of His glory would perish. But because of what Christ has done for us, we are welcome to draw near to God! We "have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear;" we "have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father'" (Romans 8:15).

The word "Abba" is the equivalent of our "Papa." Almighty God appeared in the past in a terrifying blaze of fire. We get to draw near and call Him, "Papa." Think about it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Breaking the Apocalypse Code: Not-So-Mystery Babylon

In "The Dating Game" (part 1 and part 2) I reviewed chapter 11 of Breaking the Apocalypse Code in which Hitchcock and Ice present the external and internal evidence they insist overwhelmingly support a mid-90s date for the writing of Revelation. We discovered that the testimony of some of the earliest Church Fathers, Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria, was that John was banished to Patmos before Domitian, under Nero, and that the words contained within Revelation strongly favor a mid-60s date while the Jerusalem temple was still standing. While the evidence may not be 100% conclusive, what is absolutely clear is that futurists cannot argue against preterism based on the date Revelation was written.

The logic and exegesis exhibited by the authors of Breaking has thus far left something to be desired. I'm honestly surprised that the book was given the kudos included at the beginning of the book. Clearly we've yet to see the "excellent point-by-point critique of...preterist interpretations of end-time events" that Dr. Norman Geisler read. Nor have we seen the "insightful study, biblical exegesis and historical survey" that Dr. Ed Hindson found in the book. Let's see if we begin to see what these scholars saw as we look at some of the other chapters.


"The book of Revelation contains 404 verses, and 44 of these verses deal with Babylon (Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:1-18:24). That's about eleven percent of the entire book of Revelation devoted to one main topic--Baylon, the great harlot...In chapter 5 of AC (Historical Principle), Hanegraaff contends that the 'harlot' city in Revelation 17 is the nation of Israel/the city of Jerusalem. He presents his view of Babylon in Revelation 17 as a virtual slam dunk and wonders why others have missed what is so obvious to him...But is is certainty well-placed?" (p. 169)

I'll be honest, when during my "conversion" to preterism I became convinced that Babylon was apostate Jerusalem, I was surprised I'd been blind to the obvious for so long. Thus I can relate to Hanegraaff's statement that "What has puzzled me over the years is not the identity of 'the great prostitute,' but how so many could mistake her historical identity" (The Apocalypse Code, p. 118). But perhaps I was right before, and am blinded now, rather than then. Hitchcock and Ice begin by attempting to refute two arguments Hanegraaff makes in his book.

"First, he notes that in Revelation 17, Babylon is referred to as a harlot. He then notes that in biblical history the only nation that is 'inextricably linked to the moniker "harlot"' is the nation of Israel...It is true that Israel is portrayaed as a harlot, especially in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. However, as Hanegraaff mentions in a footnote, Nineveh is also called a is the city of Tyre...So, the harlot imagery is not as clear a link to Israel as Hanegraaff states." (p. 170)


The authors of Breaking point out that Hanegraaff admits that Nineveh and Tyre are also associated with harlotry. However, it is telling that they do not quote the footnote in question:

"Even the two exceptions once worshiped the one true God of Israel. Nineveh was transformed through the preaching of Jonah (Jonah 3) and Tyre assisted Solomon in the construction of the Jewish temple (1 Kings 5). Thus, their apostasy is associated with harlotry." (The Apocalypse Code, p. 256)

So Nineveh could be called a harlot because she apostatized from her God. As Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary on the opening of Nahum:

"About 100 years before this Jonah had, in God’s name, foretold the speedy overthrow of this great city; but then the Ninevites repented and were spared, and that decree did not bring forth. The Ninevites then saw clearly how much it was to their advantage to turn from their evil way; it was the saving of their city; and yet, soon after, they returned to it again; it became worse than ever, a bloody city, and full of lies and robbery."

Tyre, too, had once served the Lord:

"When Hiram [king of Tyre] heard the words of Solomon, he rejoiced greatly and said, 'Blessed be the LORD today, who has given to David a wise son over this great people.' So Hiram sent word to Solomon, saying, 'I have heard the message which you have sent me; I will do what you desire concerning the cedar and cypress timber.'" (1 Kings 5:7-8)

"Then Huram, king of Tyre, answered in a letter sent to Solomon: 'Because the LORD loves His people, He has made you king over them.' Then Huram continued, 'Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who has made heaven and earth, who has given King David a wise son, endowed with discretion and understanding, who will build a house for the LORD and a royal palace for himself.'" (2 Chronicles 2:11-12)

Babylon, on the other hand, is never recorded as serving the Lord. It was a pagan kingdom of godlessness, and under Nebuchadnezzar it beseiged Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, sending the Israelites into exile (Ezekiel 24:2, 2 Kings 25). Yet in all its inquity, Babylon is never called a harlot in the Old Testament, because she was never in a relationship with God. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that the "great harlot" of Revelation is literal Babylon.


"Second, Hanegraaff says, 'The biblical link between Ezekiel 16 and Revelation 17 in itself is enough to preclude misidentification.'...While there are some parallels between these two texts, the Old Testament passage that most closely parallels Revelation 17-18 is Jeremiah 50-51, not Ezekiel 16. Jeremiah 50-51 is an Old Testament passage that describes the destruction of the literal city of Babylon on the Euphrates." (p. 170-171)

Hitchcock and Ice understate the parallels between Ezekiel and Revelation. They are not limited to Revelation 17. As Hank points out,

"Revelation is a virtual recapitulation of Ezekiel, from the four living creatures (Ezekiel 1//Revelation 4) to the mark on the foreheads of the saints (Ezekiel 9//Revelation 7); from the eating of the scroll (Ezekiel 3//Revelation 10) to the measuring of the temple (Ezekiel 40//Revelation 11); from God and Magog (Ezekiel 38//Revelation 20) to the river of the water of life (Ezekiel 47//Revelation 22). And even that but scratches the surface." (The Apocalypse Code, p. 121-122)

Indeed, I would add the four judgments upon Jerusalem in Ezekiel 14:21 as compared with the authority given the fourth horseman in Revelation 6:8. It is important that we remember that the first half of Ezekiel is not just a depiction of the abominations and harlotry committed by Israel; it foretells the seige upon Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple that stood in Ezekiel's day! These parallels, then, are a striking indication that the great harlot of Revelation is, in fact, the apostate Jerusalem of John's day, upon whom God was preparing to pour out His wrath.


But what about the claim made in Breaking the Apocalypse Code that "the Old Testament passage that most closely parallels Revelation 17-18 is Jeremiah 50-51, not Ezekiel 16?" The authors go on to list the many parallels between these two passages, saying, "The many parallels between this passage and the future Babylon in Revelation 17-18 indicate that they are both describing the same city" (p. 171). They go on to say,

"Every Old Testament mention of Babylon is a reference to the literal city on the Euphrates River. By the time one gets to Revelation there are hundreds of references to literal Babylon. A consistent pattern has been developed. To use Hanegraaff's language, 'someone with the background music of the Old Testament coursing through their minds' should know that in the Old Testament Babylon means Babylon (about 300 times), not Israel or Jerusalem." (p. 172)

I cannot help but wonder if Hitchcock and Ice understand the concept of biblical typology, "the doctrine or study of types or prefigurative symbols." The Bible powerfully testifies to the sovereignty of God over His creation by the many literal events and entities in the Old Testament which serve as types fulfilled in the New Testament. The Mosaic Law, the temple and the sacrifices performed there by its priests, the Jewish Feasts; all are types fulfilled by their antitype, the New Covenant:

"Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, 'SEE,' He says, 'THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN.' But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises." (Hebrews 8:4-6)

"The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience...But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." (Hebrews 9:8-9, 11-12)

"For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near." (Hebrews 10:1)

"Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ." (Colossians 2:16-17)

It would seem the authors of Breaking would have us believe that, given the great number of parallels between them, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant must be one and the same! Now obviously, I don't think Hitchcock and Ice would actually make that claim. Nevertheless, their insistence that the parallels between Babylon in Jeremiah 50-51 and Babylon in Revelation 17-18 prove they refer to the same literal city is unjustified. It is quite possible that the historical Babylon served as a type of the "great harlot" that we see in Revelation.


Of course, this begs the question: Is there exegetical justification for viewing the Babylon of Revelation as the antitype of a forerunner? Hitchcock and Ice would say no, there is not:

"Think about it...why would John suddenly change the established meaning of Babylon, which is reinforced about 300 times in the Old Testament, to Jerusalem the last time Babylon is mentioned in the Bible? No careful, informed reader could expect this sudden shift, this hermeneutical jolt, just a few chapters from the end of the Bible, yet this is what AC would have us believe." (p. 173)

It is here that the authors of Breaking begin setting themselves up for embarrassment. Any reader familiar with this passage in Revelation ought to see it coming. They go on to say:

"The one time John wants to identify a geographical location using symbolic language, he alerts the reader to the fact that it is non-literal. In Revelation 11:8 he refers to Jerusalem as 'Sodom and Egypt,' but he makes it clear that he is not speaking literally: 'The great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt' (italics added). John is being very careful here to let the reader know when he is not speaking literally of Sodom and Egypt...While it might be possible that the name 'Babylon' is a code name...there is no such indication in the text." (p. 173-174)

Did you catch it? Notice they say that because John refers to "the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt" he therefore "is not speaking literally of Sodom and Egypt." This utterly shatters their own case, for look at how various translations render Revelation 17:5 (I've added the emphasis to each):

"and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, 'BABYLON THE GREAT'" (NASB)

"This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT" (NIV)

"A riddle-name was branded on her forehead: great babylon" (The Message)

"And on her forehead there was inscribed a name of mystery [with a secret symbolic meaning]: Babylon the great" (Amplified)

"A mysterious name was written on her forehead: 'Babylon the Great'" (NLT)

"And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT" (KJV)

"And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: 'Babylon the great'" (ESV)

"On her forehead a mysterious name was written: I AM THE GREAT CITY OF BABYLON" (CEV)

"And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT" (NKJV)

Hitchcock and Ice cite Henry Morris as saying, "It must be stressed again that Revelation means 'unveiling,' not 'veiling.' In the absence of any statement in the context to the contrary, therefore, we must assume that the term Babylon applies to the real city of Babylon" (p. 174, citing The Revelation Record). As we've seen, John provides just the statement necessary by calling the harlot "Mystery Babylon," or calling it a "mysterious name."

The word is μυστήριον (mystērion) and means "hidden thing, secret, mystery;" "a hidden or secret thing, not obvious to the understanding." What I would ask the authors of Breaking is, in what way is the moniker "Babylon" meant to keep the identity of the harlot "a hidden or secret thing" if she is, in fact, the literal Babylon of history? Clearly, John is expecting us to understand his Babylon as a symbolic representation, a type fulfilled by its antitype, the "great harlot."


"One also wonders why Hanegraaff never considers the numerous obstacles to taking the harlot in Revelation 17 as Jerusalem. Proper exegesis would require at least an awareness of these problems." (p. 174)

Let's take a look at these "obstacles" one-by-one. First, "Jerusalem doesn't sit on many waters...While the waters in 17:15 are identified as the nations of the world, it appears that this city is a major source of international sea trade (18:17-18)" (p. 174). The harlot is said to sit upon a beast whose seven heads are seven hills, suggesting alliance with Rome, the city upon seven hills, the empire comprised of the nations of the world. And the Romans ruled Judea from Caesarea, which is where Herod, who ordered the slaughter of the small children in Bethlehem, had built his palace, and which was the official residence of Pontius Pilate, who eventually gave in to the demands of the apostate Jews and ordered Jesus' death. Caesarea had a very impressive harbor, one described by Josephus as being as large as Athens' major harbor at Piraeus. And the merchants who frequented the harbor at Caesarea had extensive economic dealings with Jerusalem.

Second, "Revelation 17:18 says that the great city of Babylon reigns over the kings of the earth. Clearly, Jerusalem did not reign over the kings of the earth in AD 70. She did not even reign over herself in the first century" (p. 174-175). No, but she "reign[ed] over the kings of the land" of Judea (the word is γῆ, ge, and can mean "a country, land enclosed within fixed boundaries, a tract of land, territory, region"). As Josephus wrote, "[Judea] was parted into eleven portions, of which the royal city Jerusalem was supreme and presided over all the neighboring country as the head does over the body" (Josephus, The Jewish War, book 3 chapter 3).

Third, "In the first century Jerusalem was never the world economic city described in Revelation 17-18. Even in one's wildest imagination, the city of Jerusalem in the first century cannot even come close to the description of Babylon as the economic juggernaut and hub of the world" (p. 175). Here Hitchcock and Ice are simply wrong. As Philip A. Harland writes, "wealth in the form of rents, taxes, and tithes flowed toward urban centres, especially Jerusalem (and the Temple)...In many respects, Jerusalem and the Temple were the hub of commercial activity and trade in Judea" (The Economy of First-Century Palestine: State of the Scholarly Discussion). But as Harland also notes, the wealth that flowed toward Jerusalem was distributed asymmetrically "in favor of the elite, a small fraction of the population...consisting of the royal family, aristocrats, religious leaders and some priests." Thus it is precisely that element of apostate Jerusalem that was in bed with Rome and in opposition to God which grew rich as a result of the economic prosperity generated through Jerusalem.


We see, then, that the "obstacles" presented by the authors of Breaking are not obstacles at all, and are perfectly compatible Hanegraaff's identification of the great harlot of Revelation as Jerusalem. But if she is, in fact, Jerusalem, is there any additional evidence, besides the harlot imagery, with which the proverbial coffin can be nailed shut?
  1. The harlot is called the "great city" (17:18). As Hitchcock and Ice readily admit, Jerusalem is called the "great city" in Revelation 11:8.
  2. The harlot is "drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus" (17:6). Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, "I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth...all these things will come upon this generation" (Matthew 23:34-36). Before Stephen was martyred by the Council he said to them, "you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become" (Acts 7:51-52). No better candidate exists for a harlot "drunk with the blood of the saints" than first century apostate Jerusalem.
  3. A voice from heaven says, "Come out of [the great harlot], my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues" (18:4). This brings to mind Jesus' warning to His disciples in the Olivet Discourse, saying, "when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city" (Luke 21:20-21).
  4. John contrasts the great harlot with the purified bride saying, "He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality...His bride has made herself ready" (19:2,7). Since the "bride adorned for her husband" is "the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (21:2), it suggests that the "great harlot" is the earthly Jerusalem of John's day. The contrast between earthly and heavenly Jerusalem had been illustrated earlier by Paul using a contrast between a bondwoman and a bride (Galatians 4:25-26).

The identity of Babylon, the great harlot of Revelation, is thus not such a mystery at all. Only apostate Israel could be called the "mother of harlots," and within that context only apostate Jerusalem called the "great city." The Babylon of history, identified with oppression of God's people and godless idolatry, naturally serves as a type finding its fulfillment in the harlotry of apostate Judaism, which had left its God and which persecuted the saints. The great harlot is the Jerusalem from below, contrasted with the purified bride, the Jerusalem from above. And God's people were called to flee from her midst, for her destruction was near.

Hitchcock and Ice conclude their examination of the harlot saying, "Hanegraaff's identification of Babylon in Revelation 17 as Jerusalem is not consistent with the text, with sound exegesis, or even with his own 'code' of tethering our interpretations to the Old Testament" (p. 175). As we've seen, quite the opposite is true. Proper exegesis of the text and application of Old Testament typology demands we accept that "Mystery Babylon" is, in fact, first century apostate Jerusalem.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Sign of Jonah: In the Belly of the Sea Monster

My wife and I have recently joined a wonderful small group affiliated with our church in an attempt to get "plugged in" to our local family of believers. (I want to thank all of you for making us feel so welcomed!) Our group is going through a 90-day reading plan, during the course of which I've come across some interesting "tidbits" of biblical information. We haven't always had time for me to share these tidbits, and Lord knows I need an outlet! So, I decided to start a new series called "Tidbits," in which I will share these interesting Scriptural nuggets I come across.


On day nine of our reading plan we read a passage from Matthew that includes these words spoken by Jesus:

"Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, 'Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.' But He answered and said to them, 'An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here." (Matthew 12:38-41, emphasis mine)

I've read this passage many times, I'm sure, but somehow missed it. It was my wife, in fact, who caught this. In our preferred translation of this passage, Jesus calls the creature in whose belly Jonah was trapped a "sea monster." The Amplifed translation agrees, and this had me a bit curious. We're more familiar with this story as depicting Jonah in the belly of a whale (KJV), or a "great fish" (NIV, NLT, ESV, CEV, NKJV). Why, I wondered, did the NASB and Amplified translations render it differently?

Jesus is quoting Jonah 1:17 where we read, "And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights." The original Hebrew words rendered "great fish" are דג גדול (dag gadol), which literally mean just that: huge (gadol) fish (dag). The translators of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament from which the New Testament authors often quoted, rendered it μέγα κῆτος (mega ketos) which also means great or huge (mega) fish (ketos).

The problem is that Jesus uses this word, κῆτος (ketos), to refer to the "great fish" in Matthew 12:40, instead of ἰχθύς (ichthys), which is used everywhere else in the New Testament to refer to fish (Matthew 7:10 and 1 Corinthians 15:39, for example). The word κῆτος (ketos) appears nowhere else in Scripture. How, then, is it different from ἰχθύς (ichthys)?

The word κῆτος (ketos) is used in ancient Greek myths to refer to monsters of the sea. They "were usually depicted as serpentine fish withlong rows of sharp teeth" (Ketea, Theoi Greek Mythology). The word was used, then, to refer to huge, terrifying fish-like creatures of the sea. Contrast that with ἰχθύς (ichthys) which was used to refer to the small fish caught for food, and it is evident why Matthew records Jesus' words using κῆτος (ketos).

Neither Matthew nor Jesus were perpetuating contemporary Greek myths of terrifying, serpent/fish sea monsters. They were merely quoting from the Septuagint, which rendered the original Hebrew words "great fish" into the Greek in as clear a way as possible.

Breaking the Apocalypse Code: The Dating Game, Part 2

In part 1 of "The Dating Game," we examined the external evidence Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice present in chapter 11 of Breaking the Apocalypse Code in support of a late (AD 95) date for Revelation. We discovered that in their attempt to sweep the preterist position under the rug, they want you to believe that "The external evidence from church history points emphatically and overwhelmingly to the AD 95 date for the composition of Revelation" (p. 198). As we've seen, however, this statement is based on a shaky house of cards, the foundation of which collapses with the breath of a whisper.

As R. C. Sproul writes in The Last Days According to Jesus, however, "the external evidence regarding the dating of Revelation is neiher monolithic nor homogeneous" (p. 145). In other words, though the historical evidence is not firmly in support of the late date, neither is it conclusive evidence of an early one. Therefore, an examination of the internal evidence is additionally necessary for formulating an idea as to when Revelation was written. In this second part of my review we will look at the internal evidence presented in chapter 11 of Breaking argued to support a late date.

"In considering the internal evidence for the date of Revelation, let's begin by examining Hanegraaff's arguments and then look at the evidence for the AD 95 date.

Hanegraaff identifies "three arguments that tower above the rest" in his attempt to defend the AD 65 date for Revelation. Let us look at these three towers and see if they are built on stone or sand." (p. 198)

Thus the authors of Breaking begin their case by attempting to refute Hanegraaff's reasons for believing Revelation was written before AD 70: 1) John doesn't mention that Jerusalem was destroyed; 2) John doesn't say Jesus' prophecy of the attack upon Jerusalem was fulfilled; and 3) John mentions a seemingly still-standing temple. I'm comfortable with Hitchcock's and Ice's dismissal of the second point above, so I won't address that one.


"Hanegraaff's first tower is an argument from silence...One must remember that Revelation was written to a primarily Gentile audience in Asia Minor, about 800 miles from Jerusalem, 25 years after AD 70. The original audience was removed ethnically, geographically, and chronologically from the destruction of Jerusalem. Also, Revelation says clearly that it is a prophecy about the future (1:3; 22:10) and not history as Hanegraaff supposes. The simple reason John didn't record the events of AD 70 is that it was a past event, and Revelation is a prophecy." (p. 198-199)

I'm not sure I buy the authors' first point, that because Revelation was written primarily to a Gentile audience that therefore his readers would be utterly unfamiliar with Jerusalem and the temple and their importance. In a letter to the church at Smyrna, John is told to write, "I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (2:9). Similarly, to the church in Philadelphia he is told to write, "I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie--I will make them come and bow down at your feet" (3:9). The point is, there was a Jewish influence in at least some of the seven churches, albeit a negative one, and no doubt the Gentile congregants had some knowledge of the temple in Jerusalem.

Additionally, the book of Revelation is replete with allusions to the Old Testament. As the authors of Breaking admit, "there are at least 278 allusions to the Old Testament in the 404 verses of Revelation" (p. 200). John's words would have been impossible to understand to an audience not steeped in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. (Indeed, I think that's largely the problem today.) But an audience intimately familiar with the Old Testament would likewise be aware of the temple in Jerusalem and their importance.

As for the other point, that Revelation "is a prophecy about the future...and not history," that means nothing. Ezekiel, too, prophesied of the future, yet he mentioned the siege upon Jerusalem in his day:

"And the word of the LORD came to me in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth of the month, saying, 'Son of man, write the name of the day, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day. Speak a parable to the rebellious house and say to them..."In your filthiness is lewdness. Because I would have cleansed you, yet you are not clean, you will not be cleansed from your filthiness again until I have spent My wrath on you. I, the LORD, have spoken; it is coming and I will act I will not relent, and I will not pity and I will not be sorry; according to your ways and according to your deeds I will judge you," declares the Lord GOD.'" (Ezekiel 24:1-2, 13-14)

Here Ezekiel records a prophecy of the future, just as John did, namely the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet, he also mentions the beginning of the seige upon Jerusalem by Babylon. According to Hitchcock and Ice, "The simple reason John didn't record the events of AD 70 is that it was a past event, and Revelation is a prophecy." We now see how little sense that makes. Of course, in Ezekiel's case the seige upon Jerusalem is related to the prophecy of its destruction. Well, if John wrote after the seige upon Jerusalem, after the destruction of the temple and after the scattering of the Jews, and if his prophecy is of a future rebuilt temple and attack upon a Jerusalem to which Jews had been returned, no doubt the former are related to the latter. As R. C. Sproul put it in The Last Days According to Jesus, "Granted this is an argument from silence, but the silence is deafening" (p. 147).


"Hanegraaff's third tower in defense of the early date of Revelation is based on the mention of a temple in Revelation 11:1-2...[His] insistence that the temple in Revelation 11:1-2 must be standing when John wrote, is surprising in view of the fact that he says the Old Testament is the key to understanding the book of Revelation. In the Old Testament books of Daniel and Ezekiel, both prophets describe future temples that did not exist at the time they wrote (Daniel 9:26-27; Ezekiel 40-48). When Daniel wrote, the Jewish temple was in ruins in Jerusalem. Likewise, when Ezekiel prohpesied there was no temple standing in Jerusalem." (p. 200)

Daniel and Ezekiel did indeed speak of a future temple while the former one lay in ruins. But each did so only having first spoken of the destruction of the former temple and prophesying concerning a future restoration of Jerusalem! I can only surmise that either Hitchcock and Ice have not read the passages they cite in their context, or they are trying to mislead their readers. Take a look for yourself:

"O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us. So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary...'Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.'" (Daniel 9:16-17, 24-27, emphasis mine)

Daniel can only speak of a future temple because he's first spoken of the destruction of the former and was told explicitly that it would be rebuilt. We see something similar in Ezekiel:

"Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, 'Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name. They will forget their disgrace and all their treachery which they perpetrated against Me, when they live securely on their own land with no one to make them afraid. When I bring them back from the peoples and gather them from the lands of their enemies, then I shall be sanctified through them in the sight of the many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD their God because I made them go into exile among the nations, and then gathered them again to their own land; and I will leave none of them there any longer. will not hide My face from them any longer, for I will have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,' declares the Lord GOD. In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was taken, on that same day the hand of the LORD was upon me and He brought me there. In the visions of God He brought me into the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, and on it to the south there was a structure like a city. So He brought me there; and behold, there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze, with a line of flax and a measuring rod in his hand; and he was standing in the gateway. The man said to me, 'Son of man, see with your eyes, hear with your ears, and give attention to all that I am going to show you; for you have been brought here in order to show it to you. Declare to the house of Israel all that you see.' And behold, there was a wall on the outside of the temple all around, and in the man's hand was a measuring rod of six cubits, each of which was a cubit and a handbreadth. So he measured the thickness of the wall, one rod; and the height, one rod." (Ezekiel 39:25-40:5, emphasis mine)

Like Daniel, Ezekiel mentions the destruction of Jerusalem and records God as promising Israel's restoration to her homeland. Daniel and Ezekiel only write concerning a future temple in the explicit context of the contemporary temple's destruction and Jerusalem's future restoration. The authors of Breaking want you to believe that the "temple in Revelation 11:1-2, in the context, is a future, third Jewish temple that will be rebuilt and desecrated by the coming Beast or Man of sin" (p. 201). Yet, the context is missing the necessary elements seen in Daniel's and Ezekiel's prophesies concerning a future temple, and thus John's temple must have existed at the time of his Revelation.

A couple of additional clues are found within Ezekiel's prophecy that suggest John's is of the destruction of the then-standing temple. First, in John's Revelation he is told to "Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it" (Revelation 11:1). In Ezekiel's case, on the other hand, he sees the temple being measured by someone else (Ezekiel 40). Second, and more strikingly, just as John is told to interact with the temple in his vision, earlier in Ezekiel's writings he, too, is told to interact in his vision with the temple--the one that was then standing:

"It came about in the sixth year, on the fifth day of the sixth month, as I was sitting in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord GOD fell on me there...and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the idol of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy, was located...Then He brought me into the inner court of the LORD'S house. And behold, at the entrance to the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east; and they were prostrating themselves eastward toward the sun. He said to me, 'Do you see this, son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they have committed here, that they have filled the land with violence and provoked Me repeatedly? For behold, they are putting the twig to their nose. Therefore, I indeed will deal in wrath. My eye will have no pity nor will I spare; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, yet I will not listen to them.' Then He cried out in my hearing with a loud voice saying, 'Draw near, O executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand...Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary.' So they started with the elders who were before the temple. And He said to them, 'Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go out!' Thus they went out and struck down the people in the city." (Ezekiel 8-9)

Ezekiel was shown this vision before Jerusalem was seiged and the temple was destroyed. It was a few years later that he received word that the event he had foretold was in the processing of coming to pass (Ezekiel 24). The parallel's between this vision and John's are unmistakable. Ezekiel and John are both told to interact in some way in their visions with the temple and those worshipping inside (Ezekiel 8, Revelation 11:1-2). Each see marks being put on the foreheads of the faithful, whom are to be overlooked by the destroyers (Ezekiel 9:4-6; Revelation 7:1-3).

It seems clear, then, that the temple to which John refers is the temple that stood before being destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Whereas Daniel and Ezekiel, in their prophesies of a future temple, explicitly speak of the former's destruction and future restoration, John does not. And just as Ezekiel was told to interact in his vision with the then-standing temple, and saw marks being put on the foreheads of the faithful whom would be overlooked by the destroying angels, so, too, did John. John's reference to a temple, then, is powerful evidence that the book was written before Jerusalem fell.


The authors of Breaking, having attempted to refute Hank's internal evidence supporting a pre-70 date for Revelation (poorly, as we've seen), move on to present their evidence that Revelation was written in AD 95:

"One of the key internal arguments for the late date of Revelation is the condition of the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3. The churches of Asia Minor show all the symptoms of the second generation. The period of Paul's great mission seems to lie in the past." (p. 201)

Whenever I see a critic of preterism going down this road I sigh and roll my eyes. Let's take a look at the specifics they provide:

"If John wrote Revelation in AD 64-67, then the letter to the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7 overlaps with Paul's two letters to Timothy who was the pastor of the church when Paul wrote to him...Yet Paul makes no mention of the loss of first love or the presence of the Nicolaitans at Ephesus in his correspondence with Timothy. Neither does he mention these problems in his Ephesian epistle which was probably written in AD 62. Jesus' statement to the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:2 that it had guarded itself well against error does not fit what we know of the church in Nero's day (Acts 20:29-30; 1 Tim. 1:3-7; 2 Tim. 2:17-18)." (p. 201-202)

Paul may make no mention of the Ephesians having lost their first love, nor of the Nicolaitans, in his epistle to Timothy or to the Ephesians themselves. But the latter was written at least a couple of years before Revelation, so that is no surprise. As for the former, in the very opening to his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes, "remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines" (1 Timothy 1:3). He tells Timothy to "fight the good fight" (1 Timothy 1:18). He says "the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1). We have very little information about what the Nicolaitans professed, but no doubt it consisted of "doctrines of demons," and as such Paul's first letter to Timothy is consistent with the letter in Revelation, which would have come not long thereafter.

Likewise the emphasis throughout his second letter to Timothy is on guarding "through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:14). He tells Timothy that being "strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" requires endurance (2 Timothy 2:1-13). He says "in the last days difficult times will come...evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3). That "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine...and will turn away their ears from the truth" (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Clearly it is evident in both of Paul's epistles to him that Timothy would have to fight against deceivers leading Ephesian congregants away from the truth.

Hitchcock and Ice tell us "Jesus' statement to the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:2 that it had guarded itself well against error does not fit what we know of the church in Nero's day." What that verse actually says is, "I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false" (Revelation 2:2). The letter goes on to say, "and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary" (Revelation 2:3). This is exactly what Paul had exhorted Timothy to do!

Thus, the letter to the church at Ephesus contained in Revelation 2 is perfectly consistent with a pre-70 fulfillment. The question that remains is their loss of their "first love:"

"Those who support the early date often respond to this point by noting that error can erupt very quickly in a church. As an example they sometimes cite the churches of Galatia who Paul says, 'so quickly deserted the gospel.' But there is a great difference between the condition and maturity of the Galatian churches after Paul's brief visit there on his first missionary journey, and the church of Ephesus where Paul headquartered for three years, where Apollos taught, where Priscilla and Aquila ministered, and where Timothy pastored for several years." (p. 202)

Perhaps there is a great difference. Nevertheless, baldly asserting one's opinion as fact does not constitute evidence. As Paul promised to Timothy, false teachers would come into the congregation and lead people astray, and he would need to fight for that church fervently and with perseverance. This is exactly what Jesus in Revelation says the "angel of the church in Ephesus" was doing, and commended him for it. We don't know for certain what it meant that the church is said to have lost its first love, but whatever it is, it's certainly conceivable that the Ephesian congregation and its leadership would have done so by the mid-60s.

"Moreover, Revelation 2:1-7 makes no mention of the great missionary work of Paul in Asia Minor. On his third missionary journey Paul headquartered in Ephesus for three years and had a profound ministry there. If John wrote Revelation in AD 65 then the omission of any mention of Paul in the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor is inexplicable." (p. 202)

Nonsense. Hitchcock and Ice cannot have it both ways. If they wish to justify the omission of the destruction of Jerusalem by saying that Revelation "is a prophecy about the future...and not history," then they can't from the other side of their mouths say the omission of Paul is unjustified. The letters to the churches speak of their current condition and their immediate future. There is no contextual reason to mention Paul.


"Apparently the church of Smyrna did not even exist during the ministry of Paul. Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna. In his letter to the Philippians (11.3), written in about AD 110, Polycarp says that the Smyrnaeans did not know the Lord during the time Paul was ministering...Polycarp is saying that Paul praised the Philippian believers in all the churches, but that during Paul's ministry in the AD 50s and 60s the church of Smyrna did not even exist...This evidence points to the close of the first century as the time of composition for Revelation." (p. 203-204)

Here's what Polycarp said:

"But I have not observed or heard of any such thing among you, in whose midst the blessed Paul labored, and who were his letters of recommendation in the beginning. For he boasts about you in all the churches--those alone, that is, which at that time had come to know the Lord, for we had not yet come to know him." (p. 203, citing the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, chapter 11)

Hitchcock and Ice are yet again grasping at straws. Notice that Polycarp says it was "at that time" at which the Smyrnaeans had not yet come to know the Lord. The authors of Breaking are without justification equating "at that time" with "during Paul's ministry in the AD 50s and 60s." What is the "time" to which Polycarp refers? Certainly one possibility is that "at that time" refers to Paul's ministry, from beginning to end. However, I see two other context-supported possibilities.

Stemming from the translation quoted in Breaking, one possible interpretation of the "time" to which Polycarp refers is that time during which Paul labored in the midst of the Philippians. Now I am no church historian, but from what I can gather, this would have been, at the most recent, some eight years or so prior to a mid-60s date for Revelation. This is certainly enough time for a new church to begin in Smyrna.

Another translation of Polycarp's epistle reads, "But I have neither seen nor heard of any such thing among you, in the midst of whom the blessed Paul laboured, and who are commended in the beginning of his Epistle." If this translation is accurate, then the "time" at which Polycarp refers, at which the Smyrnaeans had not yet come to know the Lord, may have been that at which Paul wrote to the Philippians. If this is the correct interpretation, then a mid-60s date for Revelation would allow for three years or so for the church at Smyrna to be founded.

In either case, the letter John is told to write to the church at Smyrna in no way serves as evidence in support of a late date for Revelation. It fits comfortably within an early dating framework as well. In fact, very little is said to this church. All we're told is that it was experiencing tribulation and poverty, but was rich, perhaps in good works, and that some Judaizers were present there (Revelation 2:9). The letters to the other churches are longer, more specific and include some amount of condemnation; the brevity of the letter to Smyrna suggests a newly founded church which has not yet waned in its passion. Hence, Polycarp's words lend greater support to the mid-60s date for Revelation than to a later date.


"The church of Laodicea is the only one of the seven churches (and possibly Sardis) that does not have one thing to commend. In his letter to the Colossians, probably written in AD 60-62, Paul indicates that the church was an active group (Colossians 4:13). He mentions the church there three times in his Colossian letter (2:2; 4:13, 16). It would certainly take more than three to five years for the church to depart so completely from its earlier acceptable status that absolutely nothing good could be said about it." (p. 204)

Yet again Hitchcock and Ice are grasping at straws. Their argument here is basically this: Paul lauds Laodicea in his letter to the Colossians by calling them an "active group," and that three to five years is not long enough for a church to downspiral into depravity. This is, once again, a bald assertion of an opinion stated as fact. There is no reason a congregation cannot fall so quickly.

Note, too, that Paul says nothing of the quality of the Laodiceans in his letter to the Colossians. He says he struggles on their behalf (2:2), that he wants his letter to be read to them (4:16) and that Epaphras has a "deep concern" for them (4:13), which is to say he's worked hard for them. That's it! There's no indication that the church was in "good shape" at that time. They very well could have been struggling, in the middle of a fall that would worsen over the next few years leading up to the Revelation. In fact, David Guzik writes in his commentary on this passage, "The church at Laodicea is mentioned by Paul - in a somewhat unfavorable light - in Colossians 2:1 and 4:16." So some commentators take Paul's words to the Colossians, not as speaking of Laodicea in neutral terms, but in negative ones.

"Laodicea is also described in Revelation as flourishing economically. Jesus quotes the church as saying, '"I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing"' (Rev. 3:14-22). Yet the city suffered devastation in the earthquake of AD 60 or possibly 61. After the earthquake the Laodiceans refused all aid and assistance from Rome preferring to rebuild their devastated city from their own resources...Since the rebuilding of Laodicea after the earthquake occupied a complete generation, it is highly problematic to claim that Laodicea was rich, wealthy, and in need of nothing in AD 65." (p. 204-205)

Yes, Laodicea was devastated by earthquake in the early 60s. But that does not mean they weren't "flourishing economically." The authors themselves indicate that they were able to "rebuild their devastated city from their own resources!" Pray tell, if they were not wealthy, upon what resources did they rely in their rebuilding effort? A. R. Fausset, in his commentary on this passage, writes,

"It was destroyed by an earthquake, A.D. 62, and rebuilt by its wealthy citizens without the help of the state [TACITUS, Annals, 14.27]. This wealth (arising from the excellence of its wools) led to a self-satisfied, lukewarm state in spiritual things."

David Guzik, citing Barclay, agrees:

"After an earthquake devastated the region in 60 a.d. Laodicea refused Imperial help in rebuilding the city, successfully relying on their own resources. They didn’t need outside help, they didn’t ask for it, and they didn’t want it. 'Laodicea was too rich to accept help from anyone. Tacitus, the Roman historian, tells us: "Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us."' (Barclay)"

The Laodiceans, then, exhibited pride, unwilling to accept help but instead insisting that they could do it on their own. This prideful self-sufficiency is exactly what Jesus condemns. So Hitchcock's and Ice's argument fails. The letter to the Laodicean church, like those to Ephesus and Smyrna, are completely consistent with a mid-60s date for the book of Revelation.


"Another internal argument for the Domitianic date is suggested by Revelation 6:5-6, which appears to be an allusion to an edict of Domitian...In AD 92, in the face of a grain shortage, Domitian handed down a vine edict. In this edict he restricted provincial viticulture by ordering half of the vineyards of Asia Minor destroyed and no new ones planted to make room for growing more grain...The edict resulted in riots in Asia Minor because wine was a major source of income in that area. In response, Domitian revoked his earlier edict and ordered that anyone who allowed his vineyard to go out of production would be prosecuted. This event would have been a familiar, vivid allusion for John's readers of a case where grain was in shortage, but when it was illegal to harm the supply of oil and wine." (p. 205-206)

The verses in question read, "and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, 'A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine" (Revelation 6:5-6). This is a prophesy of the future (Revelation 4:1), not an allusion to the past, in which the horseman is commanded to cause grain and barley to become scarce and expensive while leaving the oil and wine untouched. This is in stark contrast to Domitian who responded to a drought he didn't cause by destroying half of the vineyards in the area!

Hitchcock and Ice write, "Since Revelation 6:6 appears to be an intentional allusion to this event, Revelation had to be written after AD 92, thus, supporting the late date of Revelation" (p. 207). I find it humorous that they say Domitian's edict "appears to be" the fulfillment of this prophecy and then say the prophecy "had to be written" after that event; quite the shift from uncertainty to absolute fact. The reality is, this passage in no way, shape or form supports an AD 95 date for the writing of Revelation. It is merely the prediction of impending famine, and we have numerous accounts of famines throughout the 60s. We may not have uncovered any evidence of famines at that time which had not touched the supply of oil or wine, but what that means is that this passage is proof of neither the mid-60s nor the mid-90s date.


Finally, Hitchcock and Ice offer up two last pieces of internal evidence supporting an AD 95 date for Revelation. First, as John admits toward the beginning of his letter, he received his Revelation while banished to the island of Patmos. The authors of Breaking tell us that while Nero did practice banishment, he is not recorded to have done so with Christians, whom he instead killed. Second, in the letter to Pergamum, Jesus mentions the martyrdom of Antipas, whom we're told by Hitchcock and Ice was martyred in AD 83 or 92. For both these reasons, John must have been banished by Domitian.

Regarding Nero and Patmos, the authors admit Nero did practice banishment, and while he certainly enjoyed killing Christians, we have no reason to believe it is impossible that he would have banished John. As for the Antipas argument, an endnote admits that "The tradition of Antipas' martyrdom in AD 92 by being roasted alive in bronze bull comes frm a Byzantine hagiographer named Simeon Metaphastes (AD 900-984)." If Hitchcock and Ice want to argue against an early date for Revelation based on a tradition that originated more than 800 years later, they can have this one.

The only internal evidence for an AD 95 date for Revelation, then, is the flimsy argument that Nero wouldn't have banished a Christian, and an equally tenuous tradition originating 800 years later which held that Antipas was martyred under Domitian. What internal evidence, on the other hand, might one present in support of a mid-60s date?
  1. The reference to the temple in chapter 11. As we saw earlier, John was told to measure the temple in his vision, and unlike Daniel and Ezekiel, John includes no mention of the destruction of his contemporary temple, nor prophesies concerning its restoration. Lacking those details, Revelation must have been written when the temple was still standing.
  2. The parallels between Revelation and Ezekiel. We also saw that like John, Ezekiel tells us in his early chapters that he was told to interact with a temple in his visions and those worshipping inside. But Ezekiel, in that context, was being shown the then-standing temple, and was told that all but those with stamps on their foreheads would be slain. John also sees the faithful stamped on their foreheads and spared from being slain by the destroying angels.
  3. John tells his readers he was shown "things which must soon take place." The plain reading of the time-texts in Revelation need only be abandoned for an alternative interpretation if one first accepts that they could not have been written before AD 70.
  4. Daniel was told to seal his prophecy but John was not. Daniel was told, "conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time" (Daniel 12:4,9). John, on the other hand, was told, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near" (Revelation 22:10). Daniel wrote some 600 years before John, and we are reading John's words some 1,900 years later. It is strange that Daniel would be told to seal up his words for 600 years "until the end," but John was told to leave his prophecy unsealed for over 1,900 years "for the time is near." It makes perfect sense, however, if Daniel was to seal his prophecy for 600 years until the end, which was within years of John's prophecy.
  5. John suggests his readers can calculate the number of the beast. He writes, "let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six" (Revelation 13:18). This would have made sense in a first century context where names were often reduced to their corresponding numbers in both Greek (isopsephia) and Hebrew (gimatriya). In a modern day context, however, there are a limitless number of ways one can imagine calculating the number of the beast, and it seems implausible that one could know which is correct.
Though other preterists would offer a number of other internal evidences, these are those which I think are most difficult to answer. Of course, those who insist Revelation was written in AD 95 will not see them as being as strong as I do. Hence, as I said in part 1, I don't think the evidence is terribly conclusive one way or another. I firmly hold to a mid-60s date primarily because I believe the testimony of the whole of Scripture supports a preterist position better than a futurist one, and I think futurists likewise hold to a late date, not because of the external and internal evidence we've examined, but because they firmly hold to a futurist position.


With that, the authors of Breaking conclude the chapter, saying,

"While Hanegraaff's system has other weaknesses, the Achilles heel of his view is the date of Revelation. The evidence for the AD 95 date of Revelation is overwhelming. Yet, in spite of the overwhelming evidence in favor of the AD 95 date, and the fact that it is the dominant, traditional view of the church all the way back to the second century, Hanegraaff calls it 'patently untenable.'" (p. 208)

As we've seen in parts 1 and 2 of my review of this chapter, the evidence presented by Hitchcock and Ice is anything but overwhelming. Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria, writing in the second century, lend support to the mid-60s date, rather than the AD 95 date. The tradition of John's banishment under Patmos isn't evident until Eusebius wrote of it a hundred years later. And of all the so-called internal evidence presented by the authors of Breaking, only two tenuous arguments hold any water, in contrast with several powerful internal evidences in support of an early date.

Thus, though I would argue that the external and internal evidence is strongly in favor of a mid-60s date for Revelation, the point is that the authors of Breaking the Apocalypse Code are being disingenuous in claiming that an AD 95 date is demanded by the evidence. Hitchcock and Ice "urge Hanegraaff to rethink his position and adopt an approach to eschatology in general and Revelation in particular that is not totally dependent upon the sandy foundation of a mid-sixties date for Revelation" (p. 208). I, instead, urge Hitchcock and Ice to vigorously debate the preterist position on its merits, rather than redirect and make the spurious claim that preterists are on shaky ground when it comes to the date of Revelation.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Breaking the Apocalypse Code: The Dating Game, Part 1

In "Understating the Times" I reviewed chapter 10 of Breaking the Apocalypse Code in which Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice attempt to refute Hank Hanegraaff's view that most, but not all, of the events foretold in Revelation took place in the first century. Hitchcock and Ice claim Hanegraaff is "lacking exegetical justfication" when he sees a gap of more than 1,900 years in Revelation 20. But it is John the Revelator, not the "Bible Answer Man," who inserts this gap there, predicting an indeterminate length of time, following which the dead will be resurrected and the final judgment will take place.

I came away from that chapter more firmly convinced of the preterist position than I was before reading it. I started my review of Breaking with that chapter in part because the argument given by the authors is arguably the most dismal of any other chapter in the book. I do so not only because it is easiest to refute, but also because I think it should be remembered as I review the other chapters in the book. It is unlikely, in my estimation, that poor logic and exegesis will exist in isolation. It should cause us to treat with care the claims made elsewhere in the book.


"For LaHaye, everything hinges on proving that the book of Revelation was written long after the destruction of the temple in AD 70. If, like the rest of Scripture, Revelation was written prior to AD 70, his entire Left Behind juggernaut is compromised." (The Apocalypse Code, p. 109)

Chapter 11 of Breaking the Apocalypse Code begins with the above quote from Hanegraaff. The authors respond saying,

"The above statement by Hanegraaff is simply not accurate. Hanegraaff acts as if a futurist interpretation of Revelation is somehow dependent on an AD 95 date, which is not true. However, it is true that Hanegraaff's view of Revelation 1:1-20:6 is totally dependent on a mid-sixties date for Revelation." (p. 187)

Now, here I generally agree with Hitchcock and Ice. It is clearly we preterists, not futurists, whose eschatological model collapses with a late date for Revelation. As the authors of Breaking go on to say leading up to an examination of the evidence, it is primarily for polemic purposes that futurists argue fervently for a late date. Where I disagree, however, with the authors, and indeed likely many of my fellow preterists, is that I don't believe the evidence is terribly conclusive one way or the other. By and large, one comes to a conclusion regarding the dating of Revelation based on the eschatological model they think fits best with the rest of Scripture, and then view as being strongest that evidence which supports their foregone conclusion.

So I do not put forth a great effort in arguing for an early date. However, it frustrates me as one who appreciates truth and reasoned debate when futurists make the absurd claim that the evidence is strongly in their favor. Such is not the case at all, as we'll see as I review their so-called "evidence." In this first part of my review of this chapter, we'll look at the external evidence Hitchcock and Ice present.


"It is generally agreed that Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon, is 'Exhibit A' for the dating of Revelation...There is a direct geographical and personal link between the author of Revelation and Irenaeus. A more qualified, knowledgeable witness for the date of Revelation could hardly be imagined." (p. 189-190)

Dee Dee Warren often quotes Thomas Ice as saying, "when you talk to a Preterist, get ready to hear the words, 'this generation' at least eight dozen times." Similarly, I would say, "when you talk to a Futurist about the dating of Revelation, get ready to hear the name Irenaeus." Irenaeus is almost without fail brought up first as, well, as Hitchcock and Ice put it, "Exhibit A." I, however, call him "Exhibit Lame" (not Irenaeus himself, but how he's used in this debate), as we'll see why momentarily. Here's how the argument goes:

"In his class work Against Heresies, written in about AD 180, Irenaeus says that the apocalypse or apocalyptic vision was seen near the end of the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, whose reign ended in AD 96. Here is the exact statement by Irenaeus:

But if it had been necessary to announce his name plainly at the present time, it would have been spoken by him who saw the apocalypse. For it was not seen long ago, but almost in our own time, at the end of the reign of Domitian.

Hanegraaff makes two arguments to try to get rid of this statement that puts a stake in the heart of his view." (p. 190)

For the next two pages, Hitchcock and Ice go on to attempt to refute Hanegraaff's two arguments. Basically Hank's arguments are: 1) the structure of the original text is ambiguous, leaving the subject of that which "was not seen long ago" up for interpretation, and 2) Irenaeus is well-known for being in certain ways an untrustworthy source, and thus we must take what he says with a grain of salt. I don't really care for the second argument, so I'm not going to address the response given by the authors of Breaking. However, they do a poor job of "refuting" the first of Hank's points, basically saying, "No, you're wrong. Face it."

The reality is that the original text is ambiguous in its construction. What matters is the context, that which Irenaeus was trying to say. The question I would ask futurists who insist Irenaeus supports their date is simply this: In what way does John having seen his vision recently prove that it was not necessary for the name of the Antichrist to be known in Irenaeus' time? Had John seen it years earlier, would that prevent the name's being made known in Irenaeus' day? Of course not. Whether John had seen the vision toward the end of Domitian's reign or 30 years earlier is utterly irrelevant to Irenaeus' point.

Additionally, just prior to the words in question, Irenaeus says the number of the beast is found "in all the most approved and ancient copies" of the Apocalypse. It seems a little strange that Irenaeus would say the Apocalypse "was not seen long ago, but almost in our time," at the same time referring to its "ancient copies." On the other hand, if John saw his vision some 30 years earler, the oldest copies would be 30% older than those of an AD 95 vision.

Some preterists understand Irenaeus as saying that it was these "most approved and ancient copies" which were seen in Irenaeus' time. Their argument is that Irenaeus had said the "most approved and ancient copies" contained 666 as the number of the beast, whereas more recent copies contained 616. Irenaeus is saying that the original manuscript was seen recently and was able to be compared to the copies to determine whether 666 or 616 is the correct number. This seems a more likely interpretation since it, unlike that of Hitchcock and Ice, actually makes some semblance of sense in the context of the point Irenaeus is trying to make.

On the other hand, if it was John who was seen recently, then had it been important that the name of the Antichrist be revealed in Irenaeus' time, John would have said it when he was seen! It's so obvious! Had it been necessary to announce the name of the beast plainly in Irenaeus' time, John would have spoken it, because he was seen almost in Irenaeus' time! DUH!

So Irenaeus, insofar as his words are used to support the futurist date for Revelation, is "Exhibit Lame." The futurist interpretation thereof makes no sense, whatsoever. The preterist interpretations make more sense, in particular (in my opinion) that which views Irenaeus as saying it was John who had been seen recently. And again, Irenaeus' reference to Revelation's "ancient copies" suggests an earlier date. From the start, then, wee see hints at the fragile nature of the futurist argument.


Irenaeus is the first in a longish list of early Church Fathers the authors of Breaking would have you believe support a late date for Revelation. Next up? "Thirty years before Irenaeus, Hegesippus held to the late date of Revelation" (p. 192). No quote, only an endnote numbered 359. When you go to that endnote, what will you find? "See endnote 145." Flip to that and you'll find, "Diprose, Israel, 90." Go to where that work is cited, and you'll find an utterly irrelevant quote regarding an attitude toward Israel on the part of Origen.

Why no quote? Why no citation? In all honesty, I spent far longer than I would have preferred trying to locate the source of this bald assertion that Hegesippus, predating Irenaeus, "held to the late date." I'll acknowledge the possibility that I'm a hopeless incompetent, unable to perform simple searches online. I suspect, however, that the more likely explanation is that the claim is so tenuous that the authors hope their readers simply give up and buy their claim.

What I found is telling. From what I was able to gather, included in The End Times Controversy:The Second Coming Under Attack, edited by Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, was a work written by Mark Hitchcock entitled "The Stake in the Heart—The A.D. 95 Date of Revelation,” in which Hitchcock writes,

"Eusebius says, 'After Domitian had reigned fifteen years, Nerva succeeded. The sentences of Domitian were annulled, and the Roman Senate decreed the return of those who had been unjustly banished and the restoration of their property. Those who committed the story of those times to writing relate it. At that time, too, the story of ancient Christians relates that the apostle John, after his banishment to the island, took up his abode at Ephesus.' The key phrase here is, 'Those who committed the story of those times to writing relate it.' To whom is Eusebius referring? The context indicates he is referring to Hegesippus, whom he has just referred to twice as a source for his information."

This is sad, quite frankly. It is most definitely NOT Hegesippus to which Eusebius refers as the source of this information. By pointing to "Those who committed the story of those times to writing" as the "key phrase," Hitchcock attempts to give the impression that it was they who tell us John was banished under Domitian. But that's not what Eusebius says. He says that is "the story of ancient Christians." Another translation says John's banishment under Domitian was "according to an ancient Christian tradition." In other words, Eusebius has in mind two stories: one, committed to writing, tells the story of the Roman Senate returning those unjustly banished under Domitian; the other, "an ancient Christian tradition," relates that John's banishment was at that time. Origin of the latter, therefore, is not being attributed to the authors of the former.

Second, Hitchcock is right that Eusebius had just cited Hegesippus as a source for his information. But it was different information! He had just quoted Hegesippus at length, who told of Domitian himself freeing relatives of Jesus and issuing a decree to stop persecution of Christians. He then quotes Tertullian, who says Domitian had attempted to be as cruel as Nero, but later relented and freed many of those whom he had banished. It is at this point that Eusebius says "those who committed the story of those times to writing" tell a different story, the story of the Roman Senate freeing those whom Domitian had banished--not Domitian himself.

It is evident that Hitchcock is grasping at straws in a desperate attempt to disprove preterism by finding support for a late date. Clearly, there is no indication that Eusebius attributed the story of John's banishment under Domitian to Hegesippus. Whereas Hegesippus and Tertullian had written that Domitian had freed the banished, others had written that the Roman Senate had done so, and still another unwritten tradition held that it was in this context that John returned from Patmos. To claim Hegesippus, then, as early external evidence in support of a late date for Revelation is patently absurd, if not downright deceptive.


Next in Hitchcock's and Ice's list of alleged external evidences is Clement:

"And to give you confidence, when you have thus truly repented, that there remains for you a trustworthy hope for salvation, hear a story that is no mere story, but a true account of John the apostle that has been handed down and preserved in memory. When after the death of the tyrant he removed from the island at Patmos to Ephesus, he used to journey by request to the neighboring districts of the Gentiles, in some places to appoint bishops, in others to regulate whole churches, in others to set among the clergy some one man, it may be, of those indicated by the Spirit." (Who is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved?)

Here is what the authors of Breaking have to say about Clement's words:

"[Clement] is clearly referring to some well-known tradition in the church. The only tradition that had been handed down and preserved at that time was the tradition that Revelation was written during the reign of Domitian. Had Clement intended someone other than Domitian, he no doubt would have named that person specifically in light of the established tradition of John's banishment under Domitian." (p. 193)

Now, had they been correct about Irenaeus and Hegesippus, maybe we would buy their claim here. But we've seen that Irenaeus, if anything, suggests an early date for Revelation, and that Hegesippus doesn't factor into the equation at all. As for the ancient tradition Eusebius refers to, he wrote of it long after Clement's death, so we really have no idea whether that tradition is the story to which Clement refers here.

On the other hand, Clement gives us some clues in this quote and elsewhere in his work that John was banished under Nero, not Domitian. First, citing Kenneth Gentry's Before Jerusalem Fell, R. C. Sproul says in The Last Days According to Jesus that "the tyrant" is likely a reference to Nero:

"Who is 'the tyrant?' Clement does not name him. Gentry amasses evidence to support the thesis that the tyrant is not Domitian, but Nero. Nero was regarded as the quintessential tyrant and was commonly know by the name Tyrant. Gentry cites the testimony of Apollonius of Tyana. 'In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen many, many wild beasts of Arabia and India,' writes Apollonius. 'But this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs... And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mothers, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet.'" (p. 144)

Second, in another of Clement's works, The Stromata or The Miscellanies, Clement writes, "For the teaching of our Lord at His advent, beginning with Augustus and Tiberius, was completed in the middle of the times of Tiberius. And that of the apostles, embracing the ministry of Paul, ends with Nero" (The Stromata, book 7 chapter 17, emphasis mine). He says, then, that the teaching of the apostles ended with Nero, but it is evident that Clement considered the author of the Apocalypse to be one of those apostles. In the very quote inluded by Hitchcock and Ice, Clement calls him "John the apostle."

In all honesty, I'm beginning to feel a bit bad for the authors of Breaking the Apocalypse Code. One by one we're seeing their house of cards collapse. Hegesippus, we've seen, is utterly irrelevant to their case, and Irenaeus and Clement, particularly the latter, support the preterist case far better. I think this betrays the frantic and desperate nature of the search Hitchcock and Ice are making for anything even remotely resembling evidence that casts doubt on the preterist position. Consider their next attempt at external support for a late date:

"Origen's relevant statement on the date of Revelation came from comments he made on Matthew 16:6. In those comments he said, 'The king of the Romans, as tradition teaches, condemned John, who bore testimony, on account of the word of truth, to the isle of Patmos.' The difficulty in this statement, as with Clement of Alexandria, is that Origen does not identify who he means by 'the king of the Romans.' However, the phrase 'as tradition teaches' points to Domitian as the king of the Romans because the tradition to which Origen alludes must have been handed down from Hegesippus and Irenaeus because at this time there was no other tradition in the church." (p. 193-194)

And another card falls. If we've seen any tradition at all, we've seen Irenaeus, and more so Clement, hand down a tradition identifying Nero, not Domitian, as he who banished John to Patmos. I don't think we have firmly established such a tradition, but the authors of Breaking are without any justification whatsoever for the claim that Origen "points to Domitian as the king of the Romans."


It is at this point that Hitchcock and Ice FINALLY present some evidence which actually supports their case. They quote Victorinius, Eusebius and Jerome, each of whom explicitly name Domitian as the emperor under whom John was banished to Patmos. Domitian goes so far as to claim that an ancient Christian tradition relates the story. Yet each of these wrote nearly a hundred years or more after Clement of Alexandria who, as we've seen, tell us John was banished by Nero, "the tyrant," as was suggested earlier by Irenaeus. This is hardly the "unbroken line of support from some of the greatest, most reliable names in church history" (p. 197-198).

In fact, there are other external sources gathered by Kenneth Gentry in Before Jerusalem Fell which support the early date, ranging from the suggestive to the rock solid. The point, however, is not that the external evidence proves the preterist case, but that it is inconclusive. As R. C. Sproul writes in The Last Days According to Jesus, "Gentry recognizes that the external evidence regarding the dating of Revelation is neiher monolithic nor homogeneous" (p. 145).

Hitchcock and Ice, in their desperate, flimsy attempt to sweep the preterist position under the rug, want you to believe that "The external evidence from church history points emphatically and overwhelmingly to the AD 95 date for the composition of Revelation" (p. 198). As we've seen, however, this statement is based on a shaky house of cards, the foundation of which--Hegesippus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen--collapses with the breath of a whisper. If I were a betting man, I would not be placing my bet on their team in the dating game.